The level progression and what you learn from each one is paced exceedingly well. If you were to be dropped in a later level without the previous level's experience you'd probably be a little lost on how to complete it. But the level design in Portal lets you utilize what you learned on the previous level giving you just enough knowledge to complete what's presented to you. There's no big explanation on what you need to do or how to do it. All the clues you need are right there in front of your eyes and it's the simple yet effective setup that really lets you discover what needs to be done without being frustrating. I only got stuck in one area but it didn't take me too long to figure out what to do.
I do like that a few areas allow for multiple ways for you to succeed. In talking to one of my friends playing the game, there's one scenario where I was stuck in and used a different method them he did to get through. In fact, the more effective solution was something I never even thought of but I was able to advance through the level nevertheless. There aren't many areas where this does take place but it's nice to see that there's some alternatives to how you can succeed in moving onto the next level rather having one set solution.
Being alone in an environment like the one presented to you in Portal can be a little creepy at times. You can't see if there figures behind the various glass windows and cameras littered around the levels that are there to observe you and you only hear the haunting female voice of the computer leading you through the levels. There were times I just got involuntary chills as I walked through each level alone. I had no idea why I was asked to go through these tests but I was anxious to see what the next level held. It's this feeling of being alone, being watched, and going through these tests against your will that can give you some sense of dread and feelings that all is not as they seem to be. One thing about Valve games is that they do a great job at for shadowing events and giving you glimpses of the overall picture before you are given the entire story at the end. They achieved this through cryptic messages in the levels, hidden areas with pictures tacked on the walls, and even a small glimpse of the final level in a level before. Valve's writers and designers really know how to be patient and give you little morsels for you to chew on while keeping you wanting more.
Using the Source engine, the style of Portal should be pretty familiar to those that are Half-Life 2 veterans. The game's style are for the most part simplistic giving it a more laboratory feel with a lot of greys and whites. What's funny is that the Combine Elite soldiers design look strikingly familiar to the turrets in the game. I wonder if we'll see some tie-in with Half-Life 2 some way in Episode 3 withApeture Science. The energy balls that are littered through some levels are exactly the same as the ones in Half-Life 2. They also have similar results if you touch them so it's best if you try not to have on get in contact with you.
The physics effect are a little more subtle here as you won't get any big rag doll effects but you do get to drop objects on others and see them react. One of the ways to disable a turret is to drop an object on it to topple the gun and you'll see the physics engine at work as the object tips the turret over and it fires widely in the air.
The game's rather short and I completed it about 2 hours. It can be argued it's just a little too short as I definitely wanted more. Luckily there's some bonus levels attached to the game and an option seems to be available to import new levels so I expect more to come from the offices of Valve. I will say the last level is a blast to play and the ending is really worth the 2+ hours of playing you'll do to finish the game. What I really want to see is the folks at Valve release a level editor for us to play with. I'd love to see what the community can come up with if they had the tools to create some puzzles. Yes you'll get the massive amounts of levels that won't be worth 2 seconds of your time butthere will be a few that will be great fun to play with coming from the imagination of Portal fans.
It may be the least hyped part of the Orange Box but Portal is a strong addition to the lineup and really stands out on its own. The unique concept, interesting environment, and great voice acting leads to one fine experience that I hope we see more of in the future. The game's getting a lot of press and I for one think it deserves all the kudos it can get. Portal was a great experience and I look forward to more from the team. I definitely want cake after finishing this game and you'll know why once you do.
Companies: Valve Software
I really, really enjoyed Portal and found the 2 hour experience to be one of the best of the year so far.
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